Feeding Tubes: What Does the Catholic Church Teach?
CINCINNATIOn March 31, 2005, Terri Schiavo died after her feeding tube was removed, ending a
three-month legal and political firestorm over how she should be treated. A
victim of brain injury following a cardiac arrest, she was bedridden in a
nursing home for 15 years, unable to communicate or eat. Schiavos husband and
parents fought each other for years over whether her condition had been
properly diagnosed, whether she had hope of recovery and whether she would have
wanted to be kept alive this way, using a feeding tube.
What does the Catholic Church teach about
feeding tubes and their use in sustaining life? That controversial question is
the topic of St. Anthony Messengers
January cover story, entitled, Are Feeding Tubes Morally Obligatory? Author
Daniel P. Sulmasy, O.F.M, M.D., Ph.D.a staff member at St. Vincents
Hospital-Manhattan and New York Medical Collegedelves into this contentious subject,
analyzing it from both religious and scientific angles. After December 14, the
article will be posted at: AmericanCatholic.org.
Terri Schiavos case garnered worldwide attention.
During the last days of her life and even after she died, many concerned Catholics
continued to ask: Are feeding tubes mandatory? Should they be used or shouldnt
they? What is the Churchs position on this topic?
The Church has always taught that suicide and
euthanasia are morally wrong. However, the Church has never required that a
person do everything medically possible to prolong life, Brother Daniel P. Sulmasy
says. In medical ethics, extraordinary care indicates optional
careinterventions that go beyond what the faithful can be required to do in
order to be good stewards of their bodies. This has been judged to be the case
if the intervention is too expensive, not likely to work, is associated with
great suffering or might save the patients life at too great a psychological,
spiritual or interpersonal cost.
On March 20, 2004, the late Pope John Paul II
addressed participants at a four-day conference on the issue of artificial
hydration and nutrition in patients suffering from a persistent vegetative
state. He said, The intrinsic value and the personal dignity of every human
being does not change, no matter what the concrete situation of his life.
For many families, the decision to remove
feeding tubes from loved ones is often devastating. We naturally associate
providing food and water with what it means to care, Sulmasy says. But there
is a difference between deciding not to use a feeding tube in a reversible
condition and deciding to not place a feeding tube in someone at the very end
stages of a progressive and fatal disease.
For those facing this thorny issue, Sulmasy clearly
breaks down the Churchs official stance on whether feedings tubes are required.
But for those who must make that choice, the decision to remove a feeding tube is
no less difficult.
As Christians, we consider human life a
precious gift, he says. But we always recognize, humbly, that the human body
is finite and we look forward to the gift of eternal life promised by our
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